As Louise Hager and Carol Dale prepare to close the doors of the Women in Print storefront on Sep 11, they have mixed feelings about shutting down Vancouver’s last feminist bookstore.
Though they are looking forward to the freedom of “semi-retirement” after 12 years in business together as Women in Print, both say it’s been a struggle staying competitive in today’s market.
“Retail is a killer,” admits Hager. While big-box retailers have had an affect on independent business generally, bookstores have really felt the crunch because of the low margins in book sales, says Dale.
While there is a backlash against large retail chains-Dale says many of their clients wouldn’t consider walking through the doors of a big-box store-the myth that bigger means a cheaper, better selection continues, says Hager.
“We have hundreds of books they don’t have and would never consider having because they’re too outside the mainstream,” Hager says. While bestsellers may be less expensive at large retail outlets, that’s not what Women in Print is about.
Duthie’s manager Ria Bleumer, who experienced first-hand the affects of big-box retailers when Duthie’s underwent massive restructuring six years ago, says the closure of Women in Print will leave a large void in the local book community. Bleumer says young, part-time staff at retail chains simply can’t replace the “great treasure of knowledge” of longtime booksellers like Hager and Dale.
Dale has been in the book business since 1962, “the year the Beatles came to Vancouver,” she notes, and Hager since 1970. The two met working at Duthie’s, then opened their first bookstore together, Hager Books, in 1974.
Though both love the business, Hager says it’s time for the next generation of feminists to take on the cause. She admits it’s troubling that when Women in Print started, there were more than 250 feminist bookstores in North America – today there are about 35.
As universities focus less on feminist studies while beefing up more neutral gender studies courses, many young women take for granted the rights achieved by women up until now. But it wasn’t that long ago Hager’s father had to act as a guarantor for a bank loan when she and Dale opened Hager Books. Just five years later, it was the same story when Dale applied for a mortgage, even though she had a 50 percent down payment.
“It was ridiculous. I didn’t have a husband. My father was still alive but I wasn’t going to ask him. I was a grown woman making a purchase. You knew they just never asked a man that his wife come in and co-sign it. Or his mother,” says Dale. She ended up getting her loan, sans man, at a trust company.
Hager and Dale plan to keep up the fight, selling books online at womeninprint.ca and will continue to co-sponsor readings and book launches. Also, they have been in touch with other independent stores about expanding their feminist titles so women who prefer to browse in person have somewhere to shop. They expect retailers like Duthie’s, Banyan Books and Little Sister’s will step up to the plate.
Bleumer says she often calls Women in Print if a customer needs something not available at Duthie’s. “It’s an important bookstore,” says Bleumer of Women in Print, adding, “I think it’s my personal responsibility to pick up some of the slack.”
Hager and Dale, both cancer survivors, are also looking forward to dedicating more time to volunteer work. Dale is an original member of Abreast in a Boat; a local dragon boat team of breast cancer survivors and Hager is a founding member of the lesbian cancer support group at the BC Cancer Agency.
But first is their closing sale from September 9-11. Then comes a farewell party suited to their vision. Hager is a lesbian and Dale straight, so the pair is welcoming all women to a dance Saturday, Oct 8 at Wise Hall. In addition to being a final hurrah for the Women in Print storefront, the event is a fundraiser for the Women’s Health Collective. Tickets are available at Women in Print.
Overall, Hager and Dale are happy with the work they’ve done and are looking forward to what lies ahead for them. “It’s been a wonderful business to be in, we’ve met wonderful, fabulous people. There are always downsides, but on balance it’s the type of business you like to get up for in the morning,” Hager concludes.